Saturday, December 10, 2011

Inside the progressive bubble


Tim Redmond revisits the high-speed rail issue on the Guardian's political blog. Apparently even he suspected that the column on his road trip to LA didn't do the subject justice. As I pointed out, that column was completely fact-free. The latest attempt has facts, but they are completely irrelevant, as he fails to come to grips with the specifics of this project. Instead he compares the cost of California's high-speed rail project to BART, the Golden Gate Bridge, the California Aqueduct, etc. He seems to think that all that's required to make meaningful comparisons is to change the old numbers into 2011 dollars.

Redmond provides a link to an article by Robert Cruickshank, who does a pro-HSR blog, where his latest post tries to explain away the recent Field Poll showing that public opinion has turned decisively against the project.

There are other, better sources by people who have been focusing on this project for several years. The best, most thorough analysis of every phase of the project is done by the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail. Mark Powell is excellent on Against California High Speed Rail. Martin Engel looks at the literature on the subject regularly at High-Speed Train Talk.

The official California High-Speed Rail website isn't particularly useful, except for providing the project's documents, like the latest business plan.

Redmond's approach to the high-speed rail issue is characterisitic of the Bay Guardian and the city's left in general: a massive intellectual failure on a number of important city issues. When I started this blog seven years ago, I was surprised at the shoddy, poorly-informed performance of the progressives who were still opposing the parking garage then being built underneath the Concourse in Golden Gate Park. It soon became apparent that that slipshod approach was typical of how they dealt with other important issues: homelessness, planning, development, traffic, the Bicycle Plan, etc.

On issue after issue, progressives failed to their homework. Important documents went unread and unanalyzed; progs proceeded as if they were automatically in the right and had no need to engage with the facts. The Guardian never did any in-depth analysis of Mayor Newsom's Care Not Cash or his subsequent initiatives on homelessness. Same thing on the Bicycle Plan. Steve Jones, a dedicated cyclist, wrote clearly on the subject, but he never took a close look at the EIR on the Plan. The Market/Octavia Plan and UC's hijacking of the old extension site on Haight Street for a massive housing development were mostly ignored, with an occasional item fostering the illusion that those projects were about affordable housing.

The failure of the city's left over the last ten years can't all be blamed on the Guardian, but they were/are the left's main source of information and ideas in San Francisco. Fog City, Beyond Chron and other more or less progressive online publications haven't been any better.

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Population and auto commuting gain in suburbs


Joel Kotkin

...Perhaps no theology grips the nation’s mainstream media---and the planning community---more than the notion of inevitable suburban decline. The Obama administration’s housing secretary, Shaun Donavan, recently claimed, “We’ve reached the limits of suburban development: People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities.”

Yet repeating a mantra incessantly does not make it true. Indeed, any analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census would make perfectly clear that rather than heading for density, Americans are voting with their feet in the opposite direction: toward the outer sections of the metropolis and to smaller, less dense cities. During the 2000s, the Census shows, just 8.6% of the population growth in metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people took place in the core cities; the rest took place in the suburbs. That 8.6% represents a decline from the 1990s, when the figure was 15.4%.

Nor are Americans abandoning their basic attraction for single-family dwellings or automobile commuting. Over the past decade, single-family houses grew far more than either multifamily or attached homes, accounting for nearly 80% of all the new households in the 51 largest cities. And---contrary to the image of suburban desolation---detached housing retains a significantly lower vacancy rate than the multi-unit sector, which has also suffered a higher growth in vacancies even the crash.

Similarly, notes demographer Wendell Cox, despite a 45% boost in gas prices, the country gained almost 8 million lone auto commuters in the past 10 years. Transit ridership, while up slightly, is still stuck at the 1990 figure of 5%, while the number of home commuters grew roughly six times as quickly...

Rather than flee to density, the Census showed a population shift from more dense to less dense places. The top ten population gainers among metropolitan areas---growing by 20%, twice the national average, or more---are the low-density Las Vegas, Raleigh, Austin, Charlotte, Riverside–San Bernardino, Orlando, Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio and Atlanta. By contrast, many of the densest metropolitan areas---including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and New York---grew at rates half the national average or less.

Less friendly to the meme of density’s manifest destiny has been a simultaneous meltdown in the urban condo market. Massive reductions in condo prices of as much as 50% or more have particularly hurt the areas around Miami, Portland, Chicago and Atlanta. There are open holes, empty storefronts, and abandoned projects in downtowns across the country that, if laid flat, would appear as desperate as the foreclosure ravaged fringe areas...

In fact the media reports about the “death” of fringe suburbs seem to be more a matter of wishful thinking than fact. If the new urbanists want to do something useful, they might apply themselves by helping these peripheral places of aspiration evolve successfully. That’s far more constructive than endlessly insisting on---or trying to legislate---their inevitable demise.

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