Assessments

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

The Establishment? It’s Long Gone.

The 2016 presidential campaign has defied expectations at almost every turn, but it has produced one seemingly immutable fact: The Establishment is a spent force.

Lurking behind this simple truth, however, is a whole collection of puzzles. Is the death of the Establishment mostly an event in presidential politics, or does it apply to the entire American political system? Or is it a broader event with deep roots in society at large? READ MORE

The Shaky Edifice of Federal Power

Just seven years ago, scholars of American government were talking about a resurgence of federal power and initiative in the country’s political system. Barack Obama had taken office with lots of ideas for how to use Washington’s leverage to redirect public policy at every level of the system.

Not only were the Affordable Care Act and a massive financial regulation bill working their way to enactment, but Congress had approved an $831 billion economic stimulus package that was far more than an effort to revive the economy: It was a blueprint for the implementation through federal law of longstanding Democratic priorities in renewable energy, public transportation, subsidized housing, medical research and dozens of other categories that would take pages just to describe. It seemed that a political system balanced uneasily between national and state priorities was about to take a huge turn in a national direction. READ MORE