Saturday, October 28, 2006
Residential integration of people of different ethnicities is the best way for a society to foster equality and understanding. America’s hesitancy in encouraging housing integration casts a shadow over our legal efforts in educational integration and equal rights. But when other nations simply cannot maintain even peaceful coexistence among ethnicities, physical segregation may be the second-best solution, I contend. Although it pains ostensibly ethnicity-blind Americans to admit it, spatial separation has saved countless lives in Greece and Turkey (where millions moved to their ethnically “home” nation after World War I), in the states of the former Soviet Union (where many non-Russian peoples were allowed to follow their own destiny, without much bloodshed), and in Northern Ireland (where laws sometimes require separation of potential battling religious groups).
I am leading to Iraq, of course, in which a potential solution of separation of the three major population groups –- Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds –- is now being finally being considered in voices louder than a whisper. In response to the crippling violence, many ordinary Iraqi citizens who have lived as regional minorities are now relocating to regions in which their group is the majority, according to Iraqi-born American political scientist Adeed Dawisha, who was interviewed on National Public Radio this morning. This is reminiscent, on a much smaller scale, of the enormous population migration of Muslims and Hindus to and from India and Pakistan, when the two nations split after World War II (see photo). Such migrations cause suffering and are in many cases unfair, but in the long run they can avoid violent conflict and saves lives.
Friday, October 27, 2006
[American Resettlement –- the third in a series about how land use law responds to changing residential patterns]
Students of mine from other countries often express their surprise at American land use; even in big metro areas, our low-density residential land use seems wasteful to them. USA Today printed today a thoughtful piece on how the United States might cope with a population growth up to 400 million by 2040; largely because of immigration, we now have the fastest population growth rate of any affluent nation. The article mentions sensible efforts such as infill construction, more condo and apartment buildings, and transit-oriented development.
In addition to these “metropolitan” ideas, the nation needs to think more thoroughly about where the population pressures will be felt most acutely. It’s one thing to encourage infill in Cleveland, but it’s another thing to get immigrants and young families to move there instead of going to Colorado (hit by a huge blizzard yesterday), California (ravaged by wildfire this autumn), Florida (thanking luck stars for a respite from hurricanes), and Nevada (wondering where Las Vegas will get water in 10 years). I predict that by 2020 we will hear debates over rethinking our land use policies for environmental conservation, which have (in the words of pro-development advocates) “locked up” much of the western states, Florida, and many attractive coastal areas. For example, why does the federal government continue to own most of Nevada when new cities could be built in the desert not far from Vegas (surely we’ll get some technological fix for water supplies in the near future, yes?). It’s true that government policy in 1976 cemented the idea of permanent federal ownership of the “public lands,” and it’s true that Ronald Reagan’s Interior Secretary James Watt was chastised in the ‘80s for advocating a return to a policy of disposing of federal lands to private landowners. But I predict that within a few decades even many environmentalists may accept the idea that a new city in the desert, or in the hills of Colorado, or along the Carolina coast –- perhaps built according to new urbanist or old-European density precepts –- might be a partial solution for a nation of 400 million.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
[American Resettlement –- the second in a series about how land use law responds to changing residential patterns]
Why did the housing price boom of past decade affect a handful of regions (the northeast, west coast, and Florida) far more than it did other areas (including the large cities of the Midwest)? Any why has Olathe, Kansas, also experience a large jump in rental costs, as the NY Times recently reported?
There are a lot of factors that go into pricing, of course, but here’s a related piece of trivia to fit into the puzzle. Richard Florida (the “Creative Class” author) has published in the Atlantic Monthly a pair of maps that show how college graduates are concentrating in certain metro areas far more than they did in 1970. The primary reason, Florida argues, is that the best jobs in our high-tech-oriented nation are now concentrated in a small number of popular metros, most of which are on the coasts (with some exceptions, most notably Denver). The special attraction of these metros (few people these days move to Cleveland or Memphis to try to get rich, unlike in the past) helps account for the skewing of housing price boom.
But what about Olathe, Kansas? I suspect that the same sort of phenomenon that concentrates college grads and home buyers in high-tech coastal cities is at work in a smaller scale in Olathe. For nearly every metro area in the country, today’s suburbs (where a vast majority of metro residents live) no longer fit the uniform stereotype of the 1950s. Some suburbs are prosperous and full of new businesses, while others languish. In many metro areas, the favored suburbs are near the airport (which attracts business travelers and business hotels); in many areas, the favored suburbs are exurbs in which houses are new, big, and have two-car garages, the stores are clean and surrounded by plenty of parking, good jobs are found in office parks, and the schools systems tend to be flush with high-income cash and low in numbers of poorer students. These attributes attract intra-metro migration, which translates into far higher housing prices for these favored exurbs. In the two-state Kansas City area (not a focus of much inter-metro migration, of course), college-educated professionals often tend to prefer Kansas, as opposed to Missouri (race plays a role here, I believe), and in particular, they are flocking to “hot” Olathe and nearby communities.
Only by recognizing the diversity of and competition among today’s suburbs can law regulate effectively housing and land use in our metropolitan areas.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
[American Resettlement –- the first in a series about how land use law responds to changing residential patterns]
How are trends in geographic settlement shaping land use and the laws that seek to regulate it? Commentary is filled with alarming reports of how rural land is being “gobbled up” (a favorite verb phrase) by big-lot housing subdivisions and strip malls. But this is not the whole story, of course.
Here’s a welcome story (for rural land conservation, at least). Most eastern seaboard states have experienced over the past century a significant re-growth of forest land that was logged in order to create farms in the 18th and 19th centuries (in the 20th century, these small eastern farms could no longer compete with those in the Midwest and California). As a result of this reforestation, wildlife that was once pushed away is returning. In Vermont, the moose is making a comeback –- so vigorous a comeback that the state government is calling for an aggressive hunting season this autumn to cut back the population of the large and iconic animals. Elsewhere in the nation, the mountain lion –- that once-elusive creature also called a puma, cougar, panther, and catamount (in Vermont) –- is popping up in surprising places –- not only among the red rocks outside Boulder, Col., but even in Iowa.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
The pedestrian street: Is it a boon or a bane for cities? In Beverly Hills, Cal., the city government is considering closing off a block of the famous Rodeo Drive (see left) to ban motor vehicles and making it a pedestrian-only “Rodeo Promenade.”
I applaud the idea of pedestrian ways, at least in theory. In older sections of many cities in Italy, for example, some streets are closed off to motor vehicles, if only because of the lack of space. These streets give the older sections of cities such as Florence (see photo at left) a special charm.
Pedestrian ways have also worked in cities such as Miami Beach (the restaurant-chocked Lincoln Road) and Charlottesville, Virginia, where the old downtown Main Street (see photo below) has been pedestrianized for decades and has successfully made the transition (the only way for downtown streets to survive, and possible only in “cute” downtowns) from a shirts-and-socks retail street to a pleasant strolling route of fancy restaurants, bookstores, and specialty shops.
But pedestrian ways don’t work in places where shoppers won’t make the special effort to walk and don’t see any reason to stroll. Chicago’s ill-fated pedestrianization (with buses) of downtown State Street helped push the great middle-class shopping street (see ca. 1900 photo at left) downhill in the 1970s, and Washington, D.C.’s closing to cars of a stretch of the once-busy E Street led to a lifeless and dirty stretch of city. Both cities have reversed their decisions and have reopened the streets to motor vehicles, which have helped revitalize both streets.
The lesson? Pedestrian ways will work for popular “boutique” retail streets, but not elsewhere. Rodeo Drive seems to fit perfectly in the former category, of course. Build a big parking lot, and let the Californians stroll.
Monday, October 23, 2006
The city of Boston, often at the forefront of local law, is considering an ordinance to strictly curtail satellite dishes that are visible from public view in historic areas. Some residents are complaining that the dishes, which often proliferate with new owners and new technology, are eyesores and depress property values.
In all the furor, I make a few points: First, a law requiring out-of-the-way placement of dishes doesn’t seem any more intrusive than laws regulating signs, old cars, or laundry lines on residential property. Second, it’s ironic that government can sometimes tell a property owner that it can’t install a dish, but that the government can’t force a landlord to accept a thin cable line outside an apartment building without compensation (Loretto v. Teleprompter Manhattan CATV Corp, 458 U.S. 419 (1982)). Third, it’s fascinating that local ordinances against dishes are complicated by a congressionally-mandated FCC rule (47 C.F.R. § 1.4000) that protects a citizen’s right to encumbered satellite TV reception (but not in historic areas). The right to 657 TV channels has got to be in the Bill of Rights, yes?