Urban Notebook

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

San Antonio’s Key to Economic Success: Immigrants

The typical view of an immigrant in this country is not far removed from the image of thousands of people pouring in to Ellis Island in the early 1900s -- people with little money to their names and big dreams of making their fortunes in America. That view is still true in many ways, but it’s also true that many of today’s immigrants are well-to-do international elites. For instance, in Miami -- long associated with Cubans arriving by raft -- there are now a lot of rich South Americans. West Coast cities like Seattle and San Francisco have many affluent East Asians. Houston has wealthy Indians, New York City many Russian tycoons, and so on. These immigrants bring financial and human capital. But are cities leveraging their immigrants, and their broader connection with certain countries, to generate growth locally? 

The answer varies, but one successful example has been the relationship between San Antonio and Mexico. Their ties run deep; Texas was a part of Mexico until its independence in 1836. Since then, San Antonio has attracted Mexican immigrants. But as crime has risen in Mexico in recent years, there’s been a professional-class exodus of Mexican nationals to affluent northern San Antonio. READ MORE