Communities, Real and Artificial

Alan Ehrenhalt makes a fascinating aside in The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City. In discussing the residential revival of New York’s financial district, he asks, “This is  neighborhood, then, but is it a community the way Sheffield [in Chicago] is, the way communities existed in the great European cities of a century ago?” His answer is thoughtful but inconclusive. For now, to expand the question, what might be meant by asking whether a place is a “real community”? Continue reading

Do Vacant Property Registries Work?

If density is on balance a good thing, then vacant properties are most likely not such a very good thing. Vacant properties are usually poorly maintained, unsecured, ugly, and dangerous. They may become neighborhood eyesores, fire hazards, havens for crime, or homes for squatters. And the longer a property remains vacant, the more costly it becomes to remediate it and the less likely it becomes that it will be redeployed to a productive use. Continue reading

An Inquiry Into Density

“Cities are the absence of physical space between people and companies. They are proximity, density, closeness. They enable us to work and play together, and their success depends on the demand for physical connection.” Glaeser, Edward. Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier.

Consider this statement and its many variants: “With information travelling at the speed of light, physical distances shrink into insignificance.” But facts are obstinate things. In the United States, 81.6% of the population is classified as “urban” (subject to the uncertainty of that classification), while over the past five years, the annual rate of urbanization is 1.02%. Globally, 54% of the population lives in urban areas – a figure that is projected to grow to 66% by the year 2050. Why, when people, especially highly educated “creative class” workers, can choose to live anywhere, are they still moving to cities? Continue reading