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Archive for the ‘Urban’ Category

Attention urban planners: my alley is full of latent research

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on January 13, 2009

From ScienceDaily:

If you leave it up to the rats, New York City beats New Orleans any day.  This surprising finding comes from new research by Tel Aviv University zoologists and geographers, who are working together to invent a novel way to test urban designers’ city plans. Instead of using humans as guinea pigs, the scientists went to their nearby zoo and enlisted lab rats to determine the functionality of theoretical and existing plans…

“Using our model of rat behavior, it takes just a few minutes for city planners to test whether a new plan will work. It’s a way to avoid disasters and massive expense.” He expects that the choices the rats make will eventually be optimized and plugged into a computer tool.

…“We put rats in relatively large areas with objects and routes resembling those in Manhattan,” explains Prof. Eilam. The rats, he found, do the same things humans do: They establish a grid system to orient themselves. Using the grid, the rats covered a vast amount of territory, “seeing the sights” quickly.  In contrast, rats in an irregular plan resembling New Orleans’ failed to move far from where they started and didn’t cover much territory, despite travelling the same distances as the “Manhattan rats.”

Cool stuff, though I’m not sure why it is surprising that people and rats more easily navigate a grid than a system of “unstructured and winding streets.”  At any rate, in the interest of science, I should probably rearrange my pizza boxes to better simulate potential development around WMATA’s planned Silver Line.

Posted in Research, Urban | Leave a Comment »

NIMBY sentence of the day

Posted by Daniel Hall on December 17, 2008

NIMBYs who fight development around transit may have good intentions, but they may as well be spending their time lobbying for new highways and coal plants.

That is Ryan Avent, trumpeting a new book (online and free) from Ed Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko.  Glaeser and Gyourko explain their research briefly here.  Perhaps Ryan is applying for the position of Glaeser’s nice, progressive translator.

Posted in Transportation, Urban | Leave a Comment »

Assorted links

Posted by Daniel Hall on November 7, 2008

1. What is the likely direction of energy and climate policy under the new Obama administration and a Democratic Congress?  Joe Romm gives his thoughts on E&E TV; here is a panel of respondents at Green Inc.  There is a fair amount of wishful thinking floating around.  Count me among the skeptics that a cap-and-trade bill will pass in calendar year 2009.

2. Henry Waxman has launched an insurgency against John Dingell, attempting to take over as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.  If you have an E&E Daily subscription there is a good article here.  Brad Plumer also provides ungated commentary at the Vine.  I don’t really know much about this but I will take a shot in the dark and predict that Dingell is not going anywhere.

3. Obama will keep Bush’s ethanol mandate.  Blech.

4. Here is another (longer) version of that story about carbon sequestration that Rich linked below.  Here is Sarah Forbes of WRI talking about guidelines they have published for CCS.

5. The Economist has a story this week on urbanization, largely touting its benefits.  It is a nice mix of economic geography and history.  Hmmm, no byline of course, but could this be the work of urbanist Ryan Avent?  Speaking of Ryan, he is blogging from a conference this week on urban design in a post-oil age; here he discusses the role of urban design in solving climate change.

6. And in (mostly) non-environmental economics news, everyone is aware, right, that one of the worst wars/humanitarian crises of the last half-century has now reignited in a big way in eastern Congo?  (Yes, I could make this on topic for the blog by discussing the natural resource curse but given the scale of the crisis at the moment that seems coldly academic.)  For those who are perplexed by (shamefully cursory Western) media coverage of events I recommend this post and its four predecessors from Wronging Rights.

Posted in 2008 Elections, Biofuels, Climate Change, Coal/ CCS, International, Natural Resources, Urban | Leave a Comment »

Protection from a sometimes vindictive mother…

Posted by Danny Morris on September 2, 2008

For now, it appears like New Orleans has mostly dodged a bullet with Hurricane Gustav. While power  remains down and there is mild flooding throughout the deserted crescent city, fears that we would witness the second-coming of Hurricane Katrina thankfully did not come to pass. Still, just because New Orleans survived this storm does not mean it will survive another storm that is perhaps a little more powerful and a little more on target, as Andrew Revkin highlights today on DotEarth.

Some of the questions brought up in the aftermath of Katrina and stirred up again with Gustav relate to human infrastructure in the face of a pissed-off mother nature. The flashy question is of course ‘is New Orleans worth saving?’ Another more nuanced, and ultimately more important, question though lingers in the background and that is ‘what can cities do to reduce their vulnerability to extreme weather events?’

The question is not as simple as reinforcing our infrastructure (i.e. building higher levees), because it doesn’t take a hurricane to show us that the systems we have to protect ourselves have pretty significant limits. The floods throughout eastern Missouri earlier this year were perfect examples of supposedly adequate infrastructure failing. Stupid policies, like offering tax incentives to developers who build levees that narrow the Mississippi River’s channel in order to throw up subdivisions and the country’s longest strip mall (in Chesterfield, MO) on former floodplains, don’t buttress these systems from letting people down either. Anyone who has taken any kind of river or hydrology course should be able to tell you that when you reduce a river’s channel, flood water doesn’t have much choice but to go up, and eventually over, the levees that restrict it. I have devised a series of equations that should highlight this concept:

Free money (tax breaks) + developers = new levees + smaller river channel

smaller river channel + high flood waters = broken levees

broken levees = sad people with wet houses

Solving these kind of problems will not be simple, but there may be some solutions on the way, courtesy of the nation-state of California. The state Senate there recently passed a bill that was designed to discourage suburban sprawl as part of the larger efforts to bring the state into compliance with AB 32, the sweeping climate change bill passed in 2006. Here’s a couple things the bill would do, according to the San Jose Mercury News:

The bill would require local governments to plan their growth so homes, businesses and public transit systems are clustered together. The goal is to help California meet the emission mandates spelled out in a wide-ranging greenhouse gas reduction law passed two years ago.

At the same time, it will encourage housing to be built closer to where people work and shop while discouraging the type of suburban sprawl that has characterized California’s development pattern for decades.

It requires local governments to submit regional development plans to state air regulators for approval, making them eligible for billions of dollars in state and federal transportation grants…

…[Sen Darrell Steinberg’s] bill requires the California Air Resources Board to work with local governments to set regional targets for reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Those targets would be used in transportation plans for each of the state’s 17 metropolitan regions.

Similarly, the state would create regional housing plans that take into account the transportation plans, putting more homes near rail and bus lines and within a short commuting distance of major employers.

Local governments and transit agencies that comply would get faster regulatory approval, including an easing of the usual environmental review requirements. That provision allows a major concession to developers by making it more difficult for opponents to sue them as a way to stop projects.

No doubt libertarians are shuttering from here to Zzyxx, CA (a real town, I promise), but if the bill passes, it may provide a useful template for other states to emulate. It’s not a huge leap to envision a similar bill discouraging additional developments in major floodplains and coastal areas while limiting the irresponsible growth of communities that are already exposed to elevated risks. Such efforts may not help solve the tricky problem of places like New Orleans, but it could help head off future problems. State senators, start drafting your legislation…

Posted in Development, Events, Infrastructure, Urban | Leave a Comment »

From the inbox

Posted by Rich Sweeney on May 27, 2008

Nation’s Urban Centers Ranked for Carbon Footprint

Report Released This Thursday, 5/29

For the first time, the nation’s 100 largest metro areas are ranked for the size of their carbon footprints in a new report to be released this Thursday, May 29th by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

An AUDIO NEWS CONFERENCE will take place with the report authors to discuss findings and policy recommendations:

WHEN: Wednesday, May 28, 1:00 PM EDT

DIAL-IN: 877-795-3647

“Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of Metropolitan America” provides extensive analysis and surprising conclusions on

· The dramatic variations in the carbon footprints of our large urban centers

· Regional comparisons – which regions are shrinking their footprints and which are growing theirs

· The per capita size of the carbon footprint of an urban dweller vs. a non-urban dweller

· What factors determine the size of a carbon footprint – residential buildings, cars, development patterns, rail transit, freight traffic, weather, electricity sources, and electricity prices

The report offers recommendations on how the federal government should step up its support of metropolitan efforts to shrink their carbon footprints.

If you would like to receive embargoed materials or interview the authors, please contact Carrie Collins at 301-664-9000 x18 or or Vanessa Bilanceri at 202-244-0121 or .

Posted in DC, Events, Urban, Useful resources | Leave a Comment »

Short run vs. long run

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on May 5, 2008

A brief anecdote:

Yesterday, I was spending time with a friend who lives in rural Maryland, and he mentioned that he’d just sent his resume out in DC looking for a job so he could move into the city. His reason? High gas prices. Driving around Montgomery County every day has simply become too pricey.

We discussed this as he filled up with $3.81/gal gas. It was fascinating seeing short run price inelasticity juxtaposed so immediately on long run price elasticity.

Posted in Gasoline, Transportation, Urban | 1 Comment »

Mapping affordability

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on April 18, 2008

The Center for Neighborhood Technology, in conjunction with the Brookings Urban Markets Initiative, has created an interactive map that displays the spatial distribution of affordable housing in 52 U.S. metropolitan areas. The two basic layers overlay either the traditional measure of affordability (rent 0-30% of area median income) or the project’s Housing + Transportation Index. The HTI (explained in some detail here) incorporates modelled transportation costs into the definition, such that the range of affordability becomes 0-48% of area median income.

Here are two maps centered on Columbia Heights, Petworth, Mt. Pleasant, and Shaw in DC, four neighborhoods that are often described as recently gentrified/gentrifying.

In the first map, blue designates unaffordable areas as defined by the 0-30% housing guideline. When we factor in transportation in the second map, little changes except that a small portion of Mt. Pleasant just left of center becomes affordable by this 0-48% definition (probably due to DC’s relatively comprehensive and cheap public transit system).

There are numerous advanced layers that provide a more finely-discretized representation of the above variables — one can also restrict the data to renters or homeowners. There are also layers for the component variables, such as average neighborhood income, average monthly rent (shown below), transit connectivity index, and so on.

Not only are these great for planners and policy wonks, but also for the DC citizenry. When I was new to DC and looking for a place with only craigslist to guide me, such graphics could have efficiently guided my search.

These maps also provide a valuable snapshot of gentrification and urban development. However, from what I can gather, the area median income is determined at the census block group level. Thus, it does provide an idea of how affordable housing is to the current residents of the neighborhood without allowing wealthy suburbs (e.g. Potomac, MD) to determine the affordability of poorer areas (SE DC). However, since it is only a snapshot, it suffers from massive selection problems. Obviously, people currently living in an area are more likely than not to be able to afford living there, at least to some extent. A big issue that often arises with regard to gentrification and urban development is that people are supposedly priced out of their homes. This static representation does not help determine whether this is happening. Hopefully, the project will continue and be able to trace trends in the future, because I think it’s a fascinating tool with amazing potential.

H/T: Magda.

Posted in Transportation, Urban | 1 Comment »