For Economic Development Gold, Listen to the Music

Economists and public policy experts have been telling us for decades that sports stadiums are a terrible investment for governments to make with taxpayers’ money. These expensive buildings almost never bring in the windfall of jobs and local business development that team owners promise; within a few years they are white elephants and the sponsoring localities are struggling to pay off many millions of dollars in debt.

So the argument goes. Research from a wide variety of places over a long period of time seems to bear it out. The mammoth sports palaces built in the 1970s and 1980s have failed to meet the grandiose expectations that surrounded them. Many are already being replaced. READ MORE

Will Civics Education Make People Better Voters?

David Broder, who died in 2011, was arguably the most admired political reporter of his generation, especially among his journalistic peers. He combined excellent judgment, unflagging energy and a fundamental decency that nobody who knew him could miss. I was a member of the fan club myself.

But one element of Broder’s persona always puzzled me: He had an unshakable belief in the ultimate wisdom of the American electorate. “The voters,” he often said, “are way ahead of the politicians.” In the heat of an election season, while other reporters were trading gossip with consultants and campaign managers, Broder would trudge down the residential streets of obscure American towns, knocking on doors and asking ordinary citizens for their opinions. He always emerged from these forays with his populist sympathies intact. READ MORE

Urban Planners’ New Enemy

On a slow afternoon back in 2005, I found myself thumbing through one of the oddest books I had ever come across. It was a 733-page treatise on parking by Donald Shoup, an economist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who had devoted much of his career to collecting every available nugget of information on the subject. What made the book so unusual wasn’t just the level of detail. It was Shoup’s palpable enthusiasm for the material and his ability to make it interesting. He quoted Albert Einstein and Robert Frost, Lewis Carroll and Graham Greene. He filled up the pages with quirky little details about the way ordinary people go about their lives.

All this detail was made to serve a fairly simple point: “Free” parking costs cities and their residents a fortune and gives us little more than traffic congestion and ugly downtowns. Abolishing all those free spaces could bring about a renewal of high-quality urban life. Despite his verbosity, Shoup made his main point concisely and rather convincingly. Intrigued as I was, however, I dismissed him as an erudite eccentric certain to be branded as a crackpot by the pragmatic engineers and politicians who design and govern American cities. READ MORE

The Reality of Living in Anytown, USA

A long time ago, on a train rumbling through rural France, a local asked me where I was from. I told him. His face lit up. “Chicago!” he exclaimed. “Bang bang, eh!”

“That’s right,” I said. “Bang bang.” READ MORE

Why Affordable Housing Is Hard to Build

In just about every political constituency in the country, there are things you can’t say and expect to get elected. You can’t endorse gun control in Tennessee. You can’t make light of climate change in Seattle. In Arlington, Va., where I live, you have to watch what you say about affordable housing.

To question the suburban county’s ambitious subsidized housing goals is to risk alienating what is perhaps the most vocal lobby in town. I know that the citizens of Arlington who advocate for expanded housing opportunity don’t think of themselves as power brokers. They don’t put big sums of money into campaigns. They’re almost always quiet and polite. But they are in possession of a sacred cow, and they know how to milk it. READ MORE