It seems a healthy chunk of that segment of New-York news media that isn't picking through the compost heap of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's case remains obsessed with New Yorkers' love-hate relationship with bike lanes. John Cassidy of The New Yorker magazine a few months back ranted on a blog "Rational Irrationality," about the expanding lanes. Here, "R.A." of The Economist skewers Cassidy's economic arguments, in "Tragedies of the commons/The world is his parking spot.
Just last week (June 27), the New York Times ran an overview of the ways many European cities are trying to make driving and parking so uncomfortable that people choose to walk, bicycle or take transit. Of course, this is a technique that needs to be imported to the U.S. with caution. Many U.S. cities, especially in the Sun Belt, make is all but impossible to walk, bicycle or take public transportation. And even in New York (see above) not all are thrilled with the idea that a bicycle lane might – gasp! – remove parking spots.
Also in the New Yorker (June 27 edition), Nicholas Lemann of the Columbia School of Journalism reviews a series of books dealing with cities, "Get Out of Town/Has the celebration of cities gone too far?" (Subscription needed to read the full article.)
Lemann gives an overview of, among other things, the city-suburb wars, of Richard Florida's Creative Class theory, of Edward Glaeser's new book, "Triumph of the City," and of "Aerotropolis," a new book written in part by UNC sociologist John Kasarda, who helped mastermind the still-underperforming Global TransPark in Kinston, N.C., though Lemann doesn't mention that infelicitous angle. As an aside, the state-funded creation of the TransPark, in a rural part of Eastern North Carolina, shows the degree to which Glaeser may be right about the importance of cities in generating wealth.
For a smart guy, Lemann is remarkably shallow in some of his analyses. For instance, he says Glaeser is not an admirer of Jane Jacobs. To be sure, Glaeser (showing his own shallow analysis), contends that Jacobs' fights to save Greenwich Village turned the village into a low-density, high-priced haven for the wealthy, because the preservation prevented skyscrapers. (Here's my own take on Glaeser's book, a review of "Triumph of the City," for OnEarth.org.) Has Lemann read anything other than Jacobs' "Death and Life of Great American Cities"? Her next book, "The Economy of Cities," listed in Glaeser's bibliography, clearly prefigures much of Glaeser's own economic theory in "Triumph": that cities and the proximity they create allow innovation to happen.
Lemann concludes by saying that in 20th-century America, many more people found what they were seeking in American suburbs than in cities: "They tended their gardens, washed their cars, took their children to Little League games, went to PTA meetings and to religious services." Come again? Other than the part about gardens, is he saying city dwellers didn't do or value any of those things? As an academic at Columbia University, surely he's heard of the work of Kenneth T. Jackson, an urban historian at Columbia, whose "Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States," explained how the federal government's policies starting in the 1920s subsidized suburban development and hindered development inside established cities. (Glaeser also makes this point, with some vigor.) In other words, we'll never know how many Americans would have moved to suburbia had the economic playing field been level.
Still up for more reading: The New York Times had an intriguing article Sunday, "Detroit Pushes Back with Young Muscles," about how Detroit – which many Americans associate with urban blight exponentially worse than any other U.S. city – has instead become a magnet for creative young entrepreneurs. In the past 10 years, "downtown Detroit experienced a 59 percent increase in the number of college-educated residents under the age of 35, nearly 30 percent more than two-thirds of the nation’s 51 largest cities." And the long list of initiatives to attract and nurture entrepreneurs is impressive. Anyone taking notes at the Charlotte Chamber, and in city government here?
Happy Fourth of July.