Urban Notebook

When Local Control Backfires

Many political analysts believe that local government is the best government. The act of delegating responsibilities to states and localities is thought to increase accountability by putting governments closer to the people. But local governance can backfire, especially when parochial interests trump larger regional concerns. Nowhere is this more evident than in housing, where prices are skyrocketing in many U.S. cities. 

Fast-growing cities, in particular, are struggling to accommodate population increases because zoning and other land use regulations can stop housing construction, causing shortages, price inflation and overcrowding. The obvious solution would be to change these regulations, but such efforts often meet resistance from the community, specifically homeowner groups who dislike the impacts of new development and have a vested interest in discouraging it to keep their own home values high. READ MORE

How Can Cities Get Denser and Sprawl at the Same Time?

California keeps getting more crowded -- and most of the arriving newcomers don’t live in single-family homes. Since 2010, builders in the state have constructed more apartments and condominiums than single-family dwellings -- about 25,000 more, to be precise. Just over 160,000 multifamily units have been built in California during that time, compared to only 135,000 single-family units.

But here’s something that may surprise you: More than half of the new multifamily apartment and condominium buildings are in just four cities -- Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco, the four largest in the state.  READ MORE

Trump Victory Underscores the Important Role of Cities

By William Fulton

In the middle of the most important urban renaissance in a century, the people of the United States have elected a president who lives in a 58-story mixed-use building in midtown Manhattan. Whatever you think of him, the president-elect is a man who ought to understand cities. He has lived in America’s largest city his entire life. He comes from a family that has developed and managed urban real estate for three generations. The glitziness of major cities -- New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, even Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. -- has always had a magnetic appeal for him. READ MORE

When Texas Stopped Looking and Feeling Like Mexico

The cities along the Texas and Mexico border differ dramatically. Those in Texas are sprawling, while those in Mexico are buzzing with urban vibrancy. This is odd considering that many of these border cities have shared histories and cultures.

U.S. cities like Brownsville, McAllen, Laredo and El Paso are demographically similar to their counterparts in Mexico, yet look like classic American Sun Belt cities. Their downtowns are quiet, with automobiles outnumbering pedestrians; interior neighborhoods have single-family homes; and strip malls sprawl into the peripheries. READ MORE

Are Cities Growing or Not?

If you read all the things pundits and researchers write about cities these days, you’d be pretty confused: Cities are either growing or shrinking. People either want to live in them or they don’t. Businesses are either gravitating to them or moving away. Maybe young people like cities now, but they won’t like them when they have kids. Or maybe middle-aged people don’t like cities yet, but will later on.

Now into the mix comes Yonah Freemark, a Ph.D. student in urban planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who makes a provocative argument: Central cities are losing population relative to their suburbs, and close-in neighborhoods are losing population relative to newer neighborhoods. READ MORE