People hate waiting to cross at the crosswalk, but what if you add a dancing traffic light?
Gurgaon was widely regarded as an economic wasteland:
In 1979, the state of Haryana created Gurgaon by dividing a longstanding political district on the outskirts of New Delhi. One half would revolve around the city of Faridabad, which had an active municipal government, direct rail access to the capital, fertile farmland and a strong industrial base. The other half, Gurgaon, had rocky soil, no local government, no railway link and almost no industrial base.
As an economic competition, it seemed an unfair fight. And it has been: Gurgaon has won, easily. Faridabad has struggled to catch India’s modernization wave, while Gurgaon’s disadvantages turned out to be advantages, none more important, initially, than the absence of a districtwide government, which meant less red tape capable of choking development.
Ordinarily, such a wild building boom would have had to hew to a local government master plan. But Gurgaon did not yet have such a plan, nor did it yet have a districtwide municipal government. Instead, Gurgaon was mostly under state control. Developers built the infrastructure inside their projects, while a state agency, the Haryana Urban Development Authority, or HUDA, was supposed to build the infrastructure binding together the city.
And that is where the problems arose. HUDA and other state agencies could not keep up with the pace of construction. The absence of a local government had helped Gurgaon become a leader of India’s growth boom. But that absence had also created a dysfunctional city. No one was planning at a macro level; every developer pursued his own agenda as more islands sprouted and state agencies struggled to keep pace with growth.
The solution isn’t that complicated, as Alex Tabarrok points out:
If the rights to develop Gurgaon had originally been sold in very large packages, some five to seven proprietary but competitive cities could have been created in that region. Within this system the role of the state is to make it possible to auction large parcels of land. Once such parcels and associated rights to develop the land are created, private developers will provision public goods and services up to the edge of their property.
This video depicts a woman walking though New York City and receiving plenty of cat calls:
Naturally, there is no pattern at all to see here.
Nathan Lewis looks at how to make a pile of dough by bulldozing a big-box shopping center and replacing it with a dense urban neighborhood:
I took the example of a shopping center in Binghamton, New York. Binghamton is probably not a good place to do this, because nobody needs another nine million square feet of floorspace in Binghamton. However, since all shopping centers are basically the same, we can use that example. At a density of 100,000 people per square mile, reached in some Paris neighborhoods, 15,000 people or a third of the entire population of Binghamton could live here. However, those 15,000 people already have houses, so we don’t need to build any more in Binghamton. In a place like Darien, Connecticut, however (an upscale New York City suburb), lots of people might like to live in a place like this (good schools), and pay a premium for it, especially if it was within walking distance of the train station.
Bulldozing this thing is pretty easy, because its mostly just parking lots anyway, and the buildings themselves are rather insubstantial.
This photo is about 800 meters across, and the land plot is about 93 acres. That is quite large, actually.
Here are some of our design goals:
1) We are assuming that we have to interface with Suburban Hell as it exists, so that means lots of parking needs to be provided, and a way for automobiles to get in and out easily. Parking will be in enclosed, multistory parking garages, mostly integrated into multi-use buildings.
2) Our land use plan is something like this:
- 60% building footprint
- 30% parks, courtyards, yards, gardens, and other public and private open space, which consist of Places, not “green space”.
- 10% roadways, broken down into:
- About 20% of streets are Arterial Streets, with two to four lanes of dedicated automobile roadway in the middle, probably some trees or grass as a buffer, and sidewalks on either side. No on-street parking.
- The remaining 80% of streets (by length) are Really Narrow pedestrian-centric streets, of 10-30 feet wide, no segregated automobile roadway, no sidewalks, and no green buffers.
3) Building height is generally 3-6 stories, a typical Traditional City height.
4) Some buildings can be taller, particularly those which are adjacent to Arterial Streets. This would be more of a Manhattan-style Hypertrophic approach. Big buildings and big streets go together easily. So, you can add your 35-story highrise apartments and offices here too, if you want.
5) The treatment of the perimeter is an interesting design point. How should our neighborhood interface with the rest of Suburban Hell? Put a wall around it? (Lots of walled cities are very nice.) Put a green buffer around it? It might be nice for it to be separated from the rest of Suburban Hell, like its own little island of Traditional City fabulousness. Shall we put a row of buildings along the existing very large automobile roadways? I opt here for a combination of some park space along some streets (isolation), and some buildings along other streets. One nice thing about park space is that you can decide to build on it later if you want. Ideally, although being long and skinny and serving as a buffer, this will be usable and enjoyable as a park, not just a wall of shrubbery.
6) Block size is roughly 100-200 feet along the short side and 200-500 feet along the long side.
So, here we go:
The darkened areas are parks. The small darkened area on the left is a paved town square. You could add some smaller squares and parks here and there as well. The wide, double-lined streets are Arterial Streets. The single black lines are Really Narrow Streets.
Although most of the streets here are Really Narrow pedestrian streets, almost all of the blocks have at least one side adjacent to an Arterial Street. An entrance to enclosed parking can be put on the side facing the Arterial Street, so that cars can enter and exit without having to drive on the Really Narrow Streets. Vehicles will be allowed on the Really Narrow Streets, but, seeing as they would have to share the road with people walking, and also there’s no place to park there, the main reason that motorized vehicles would be on the smaller streets is for deliveries and dropoffs.
This site has about four million square feet. At 60% building footprint, and an average height of four stories, that would mean about 9.6 million square feet of space here. That is a lot, although some of it would be used for parking.
But as the Washington Post alleges, these aren’t just maps of the best places to go jogging. They’re also maps which clearly match up very closely with the neighborhoods of rich and poor people in those cities.
Note, for example, there aren’t many people using Runkeeper in London south of the Thames, or in Boston’s South Side, or anywhere in New York but the financial district, the richest parts of Brooklyn, and the Upper East Side (exception: some people do appear to be crossing through the South Bronx to use the bridges there). Scenic D.C. is rich with routes; southeastern D.C. less so. The farther you get away from rich coastal San Francisco, the less people are jogging. It goes on and on.
As “Know More” notes, the correlation isn’t unexpected: Richer people tend to prefer living near parks and rivers, which are also the best jogging spots. And the poor are less likely to spend their money on “rich people” things like expensive smartphones or fitness apps. (I’d also argue that fitness tracking of this manner tends to be a bourgeois affectation.) But what’s clear is that fitness and class status tend to be correlated.
A more in-depth article in The Atlantic argues that while the link between poverty and obesity is poorly understood, we can take away some major points.
“… Poverty might make some people obese, but obesity definitely makes many people poorer, through two broad channels: (a) it reduces take-home pay, particularly for women; and (b) it’s related to health conditions that reduce discretionary income, too.” Black women in particular are victims of this trend.”
Clearly the best explanation is that the poor are less likely to spend their money on “rich people” things like expensive smartphones or fitness apps.
Los Angeles isn’t London, Dave Munson notes, but contemporary California housing is built for an English climate, rather than a Mediterranean one:
Traditional Mediterranean and Arab cultures both used courtyard houses. Exterior walls in these cultures were often plain or even drab, with much more of the focus being on the interior courtyard. By having a smaller landscaped area and using native plants rather than ones introduced from a wetter climate, a household could cut its water use dramatically. The courtyard house also takes advantage of microclimates, shared walls, shading, and the solar chimney effect to naturally ventilate the house and use less energy than the detached home.
Giuliano Mauri conceived a Tree Cathedral, which was started near the northern Italian city of Bergamo in 2010, a year after his death:
The Tree Cathedral consists of 42 columns forming a basilica of five aisles. Fir poles and branches from hazels and chestnuts have been woven together to create a supporting structure for the 42 beeches planted to eventually grow and form the columns. As planned, the surrounding support structure will deteriorate as the beeches grow, creating a seamless transition from the man-made to the natural.
Standing at the foot of Mount Arera, the Tree Cathedral’s structure includes 1,800 fir poles, 600 chestnut branches, and 6,000 meters of hazel branches joined together with wood, nails, and string. The Cathedral takes up 650 square meters and took months to construct. It is more than 90 feet long, nearly 80 feet wide, and ranges in height from about 16 feet to nearly 70 feet.
I can easily imagine Tolkien’s elves building this way — which brings us to Eric S. Raymond’s thoughts on Tolkien and Christopher Alexander’s Timeless Way of Building:
I have a very powerful reaction to these buildings that, I believe, has nothing to do with having been a Tolkien fan for most of my life. In fact, some of the most Tolkien-specific details — the round doors, the dragon motifs in the pub — could be removed without attenuating that reaction a bit.
To me, they feel right. They feel like home. And I’m not entirely sure why, because I’ve never lived in such antique architecture. But I think it may have something to do with Christopher Alexander’s “Timeless Way of Building”.
Reason looks at how to grow a city in Honduras:
As hard as it is to believe, some people don’t lock their doors — even in New York City:
A 2008 survey by State Farm Insurance of 1,000 homes across the country reported that fewer than half of those surveyed always locked their front doors. And while people who habitually lock their doors are incredulous that others do not, those who don’t lock are surprised that anyone would be shocked by it.
According to the F.B.I.’s most recent annual Uniform Crime Report, of the estimated 2,222,196 burglaries committed nationwide in 2008, 32.2 percent were unlawful entries without force. And a spokesman for the New York City Police Department reported that of the 19,263 burglaries that took place in New York City in 2009, 5,041 did not involve forced entry.
These figures include commercial as well as residential properties, and burglaries without forced entry cannot be flatly equated with those that involve unlocked doors, because they may involve open windows; unauthorized use of a key; or theft by workers, family members or business associates. But unlocked doors are certainly a factor.
Inspector James Murtagh is the commanding officer of the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which includes Park Avenue doorman buildings, brownstones and apartment houses. In his precinct, he estimates that 25 percent of burglaries are a result of an open door or window.
While out-of-towners may cling to the notion of New York as a city of triple locks and metal bars bracing the door — an image common in movies from the 1960s and 1970s — that idea is dramatically out of date. According to the Police Department, there were 210,703 burglaries in the city in 1980, more than 10 times as many as there were last year.
And in some ways, Inspector Murtagh says, the city may be a victim of its own success — people may have become too comfortable.
Across the developing world, people move from the country to the outskirts of the city, where they build slums:
Their homes are built illegally, so there is no state provision of services — no electricity, running water, waste or sewerage provision. And shack by shack, the slum is born.
Hanoi has faced the same population pressures as other Asian cities. But thanks to vague and informal conventions, the state has been able to avoid extreme levels of disservice, even to the most impoverished new urban areas. And the construction of homes themselves has remained at least loosely connected to the regulations of the more formal suburbs. Together these factors have prevented the formation of slums as they are typically defined. But how has this come about?
By some estimates, 90% of the buildings in Hanoi have been built without official permission — the land untitled and never surveyed — the effects evident from even a cursory view of the city. Skinny buildings abut each other on narrow plots of land, and from the motorbike-choked thoroughfares, narrow alleys splinter off into neighbourhoods. The unplanned developments have been carried out by the quasi-legal construction industry.
Under socialist decree, all citizens were entitled to homes. Private property and construction was heavily restricted. Instead, housing was provided in state-run Soviet-style collective flats. But as growth increased, the new government struggled to maintain existing facilities and keep pace with demand. Occupants began building their own additions, often circumventing the arduous permit process. Other residents built illegally on public land.
Caught in a bind, having forbidden private construction but unable to house everyone, the government caved in and allowed private construction but with minimum standards. “Effectively, anyone could build a house on a minimum plot of about 20 square metres,” says Michael DiGregorio of the Asia Foundation. But oversight was limited, and a culture of partially and completely illegal construction began to flourish.
As the 1990s progressed, increased wealth fuelled demand, and illegal construction grew sharply. In 1995, there were about 1,000 illegal projects in the city — and those were just the reported cases. The city also began to spread out, progressively consuming villages and rice paddies to keep pace with demand for homes. Urban planners call this “spontaneous urban development”. Most of the world calls it “slums”. But in Hanoi, with the unusual mixture of basic regulation and control, a strange thing happened. “The negative side of this development was substandard infrastructure,” says DiGregorio, “but there was also a positive.” That positive came from the enlightened regulatory attitude of authorities.
In the culture of semi-legal construction, if someone built a structure that adhered to minimum standards, it became legal — and for the most part was provided with basic services such as electricity and sanitation. In most developing cities, those flooding from the countryside end up living in sprawling squatter encampments, lacking basic sanitation and vulnerable to eviction. But in Hanoi, the new arrivals could build houses that didn’t have official permission but often received basic services anyway. Because the buildings were legal, residents had incentive to improve and rebuild with stronger materials when their finances allowed. As well as these new homes, there was a similarly positive trend in the existing overcrowded and under-serviced public housing blocks, with an incentive for residents to improve the buildings.
Most people agree that merging early is polite, and merging late is rude, but traffic experts laud the beauty of zipper merging:
It works as follows: in the event of an impending lane closure, drivers should fill in both lanes in equal measure. Within a few car lengths of a lane ending, both lanes’ cars should take turns filling in the open lane and resuming full speed.
If roads are clear enough that everyone is already driving close to the speed limit, zipper merging isn’t as effective, but in the case of congestion, Johnson said that this method reduces backups by a whopping 40 percent on average, since both lanes approach the merge with equal stake in maintaining speed. “When the queue backup is reduced, the access points behind a work zone, like signals or ways to get on and off the freeway, those aren’t blocked,” Johnson pointed out. “People have a better opportunity to get off or on the system at that point.
The City of Industry is a 12-square mile suburb of Los Angeles with just 219 residents — but more than 2,500 businesses, providing 80,000 jobs:
It was incorporated on June 18, 1957 to prevent surrounding cities from annexing industrial land for tax revenue.
The City of Industry has no business taxes and is primarily funded through retail sales tax from shopping centers located within the city limits, and property tax on parcels within the City. The city has the highest property tax rate in Los Angeles County, at 1.92%.
Naturally, this does not please Victor Valle, professor of ethnic studies at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, whose Genealogies of Power in Southern California describes it as “the gritty crossroads of the global trade revolution that is transforming Southern California factories into warehouses, and adjacent working class communities into economic and environmental sacrifice zones choking on cheap goods and carcinogenic diesel exhaust.”
The 21st century will be the century of cities, we’re told, and Mark Lutter would like to see it become the century of private cities — or proprietary communities:
Proprietary communities are communities defined through private property. A common example is a mall. It is owned by a proprietor who rents out space for income. However, in order to increase the value of the store space, the proprietor also must provide public goods, security, lighting, and open spaces inside the mall. Proprietary communities typically lease land to residents, with revenue the result of increased land value from the provision of public goods.
Proprietary communities offer a solution to a host of problems commonly assumed to justify government intervention. Private property internalizes externalities. Proprietary communities take advantage of that fact by creating private property over land spaces traditionally thought of as public domain. They work by creating a residual claimant in the provision of public goods. That is, proprietors keep as income the rents collected through leases after costs are deducted.
Economists tend not to worry about the provision of goods or services when such provision has the potential to make people rich. The private sector does a good job of making cars because people who make great cars will enjoy financial rewards. On the other hand, no one can get rich stopping overfishing, for example, which is why it remains a problem.
Proprietary communities offer people a way to get rich by providing public goods. Public goods affect the value of the land on which they are provided. A classic example is schools. Good schools can increase land value by thousands — if not tens of thousands — of dollars. Similarly, police, roads, parks, and sanitation tend to raise land values. Because a proprietor’s or developer’s income depends on the value of the land he is renting out, he has incentives to provide public goods as part of his total offering.
The two closest examples of proprietary cities are Letchworth and Welwyn, small cities of around 30,000 each founded by Ebenezer Howard on Georgist principles before being nationalized after World War II. Walt Disney World is effectively a private city unto itself, demonstrating the scalability of the idea.
Imagining a modern proprietary city is difficult. Order is defined in the process of its emergence and the market makes fools out of those believing they can predict its path. However, a conservative guess is that a proprietary city might look similar to Sandy Springs, a city in Georgia of 93,000 people, that outsourced public services to private companies after a bankruptcy crisis, obtaining creating a superior provision of public goods at a lower cost.
Like Arnold Kling, I’d like to know more about how and why private cities don’t emerge.
If you want to kill someone and get away with it, hit them with your car — at least in New York City:
Dubner: Okay, let me be clear. I don’t actually want to kill anyone. And I don’t endorse the idea of wanting to kill anyone. But if I did, and I were looking for a way to do it and get away with it, how would I do it? I’d wait ‘til they were outside, walking down the street, maybe crossing at the light … and then I’d run them over in my car. Now, I’d have to make sure that no one knew I was trying to run them over. But they’d be dead and I, especially in New York City, would in all likelihood go scot-free.
Smith: There’s the case that happened with the little boy on the Upper West Side, Cooper Stock. He and his dad were crossing the street. And a driver was making a turn, and he just ran over the little boy, didn’t see him.
Dubner: Lisa Smith is a former prosecutor in the Brooklyn D.A.’s office; now she’s an assistant professor of clinical law at Brooklyn Law School.
Smith: So right now all that is is a summons to the driver for failing to yield. But it does not rise to the level of any kind of manslaughter or homicide charge. There was a study that showed that between 2008 and 2012 there were something like almost 1,300 fatal crashes in New York, and there were like 66 drivers arrested.
Dubner: Now, you might think that a place like New York, with so many pedestrians, would have particularly tough laws against running them over. But you’d be wrong. As Lisa Smith told us, only about 5 percent of the drivers who kill a pedestrian in New York are arrested.
Smith: Our neighbors have different vehicular laws than we do. Both Massachusetts and Connecticut have vehicular manslaughter statutes that punish traffic fatalities or serious injury that occurs because of simple negligence. New Jersey doesn’t have the same statute as Massachusetts or Connecticut, but even they have vehicular manslaughter statutes that encompass more behavior than what New York has, which is absolutely nothing other than drunk driving. So around the country in Iowa, Louisiana, Georgia, Nevada, Kansas, California, all over the country there are states with vehicular statutes that punish a failure to yield as a traffic fatality, that punish the driver.
Dubner: Smith says that New York has some of the narrowest standards for conviction in the country. It’s called the “rule of two” — you need two significant violations of traffic laws in order to bring a charge, including some incredibly reckless or criminally negligent act. Otherwise, it’s just … an accident.
Some interesting facts:
According to NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, only about 25 percent of the time is a driver’s “failure to yield” the official cause of a pedestrian fatality. In another 27 percent, the cause is unknown or unreported. Okay, so what about the pedestrians? Seventeen percent of the fatalities are the result of a pedestrian being “in [the] roadway improperly (standing, lying, working, playing).” Another 16 percent occur when the pedestrian is “not visible.” Nearly 15 percent come from the pedestrian “darting or running into [the] road,” and another 13 percent come from “improper crossing of roadway or intersection.” Now, again, keep in mind that this is according to data that usually comes from police reports – which, as Charlie Zegeer warned us, is bound to overweight the perspective of the driver who lived as opposed to the pedestrian who died. That said, here’s one other number that might get your attention: of the pedestrians killed in fatal crashes in the United States, 37 percent had been drinking, with a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. If you look at pedestrian fatalities among 25- to 34-year-olds, the drunk-walking number rises to 50 percent.
Pedestrian traffic fatalities have dropped from 16,000 per year, in the 1930s, to 4,000 per year. At Bellevue Hospital, in New York City, 25 percent of all trauma patients are pedestrians struck by motor vehicles, and another 10 percent are bicyclists struck by motor vehicles.
The interviewed doctor concludes, “From our data, I think all pedestrians should be wearing helmets. But who would really want to wear a bike helmet when they’re walking, when they’re going out for a date?”