Michael Lewyn's blog

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.
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Public Options in Transit and Health Care

Over the next few months, Congress will continue to debate health insurance reform, and in particular, whether to create a "public option"- a government-financed insurance company which would compete with private
health insurers.  Opponents of the public option fear that the government package might drive private insurers out of business.  Are such concerns legitimate? American transportation history may give ammunition to both supporters and opponents of the public option. 

How to drive traffic away

A few days ago, I was trying to take a streetcar in Toronto- and the streetcar was just as congested as any suburban arterial. The lines in front of streetcars were so long that I couldn't get into the first streetcar. Or the second. Or the third. Instead, I had to wait a few minutes (horrors!) for the fourth streetcar.

I asked myself: what if streetcars only ran every hour, instead of every few minutes? Would the streetcars be equally crowded? Of course not. People would abandon the streetcars and start to use cars (if they owned them) and buy them (if they did not yet own them).

The Genesis of Stalemate

Some of my acquaintances believe that climate change may end human life (or at least civilization) and that the only way to save humanity is to massively reduce economic growth and consumption. Other acquaintances believe that climate change is, if not an outright hoax, a minor problem- and that even the slightest attempt to regulate emission-creating industries will itself destroy American civilization.

A Middle Ground In The Bag Wars

The San Jose City Council is considering a proposal to ban plastic bags and most paper bags in supermarkets, out of concerns about the greenhouse gases used to manufacture them and about the waste from discarded bags.  But this policy might create as many environmental problems as it solves. 

In a city without disposable bags, shoppers who seek to buy large amounts of groceries will have to drag around an army of nondisposable containers.  For drivers, this is not a big deal.  Susie SUV can always find  space for dozens of nondisposable bags in her truck.  And because Susie’s bags can stay in her truck forever, she will always be able to make impulse purchases without difficulty.

Stress and the city, part 2

Not long ago, I posted on what makes some cities more stressful than others. (See http://www.planetizen.com/node/40441 ). In that post, I remarked that the ideal objective indicia of stress (resident surveys on crime, illness, etc.) often do not exist for most cities.

What Makes A City Stressful?

Forbes just came up with another of its “Most X City” surveys. This week, it listed the most stressful cities (http://www.forbes.com/2009/08/20/stress-unemployment-homes-lifestyle-rea... ). Nearly all of Forbes’ criteria, however, are silly in one respect or another.

Legibility vs. efficiency

One reason why buses are less popular than trains is buses' lack of "legibility": the ability of an occasional passenger to figure out how to get somewhere by bus. While subway or light rail passengers can look at a system map (which is usually present on a station wall) and figure out that a train to destination X shall arrive at their station reasonably soon, bus passengers typically have to invest time in getting schedules, and then pray that the schedule has not changed.

New urbanists and old-fashioned Jews

A few years ago, someone asked me the following question (loosely paraphrased) on a listserv: “Since the most tradition-minded* religious Jews are required by Jewish law to walk to synagogue on Sabbaths and holy days (and thus presumably prize walkability) why aren’t they a major market for new urbanist developments?” At the time, I didn’t have a coherent answer. But now that I know more about both traditional Jews and new urbanism, I do.

Geography Still Matters


Some commentators think that Internet technology will liberate us from the constraints of place; for example, one amazon.com book review of Joel Kotkin’s The New Geography states “Because today's connected workers can live anywhere they want, they will live anywhere they want.”  Kotkin himself is a little more circumspect, but writes: “Telecommunication allows people who want privacy, low-density neighborhoods and good schools to live in small towns in a way never before possible.”(1)  There is a tiny amount of truth to this claim: the Internet does make it

A Fable About Sprawl

Once upon a time, there was a city called City. And everyone living in City voted in the same elections and paid taxes to the same government.

And then 5 percent of the people decided that they wanted to live in an new neighborhood that was opened up for development by the highways. And they called it Richburb, because they were, if not rich, at least a little richer than many of the people in the city (since even if there wasn’t zoning to keep the poor out, new housing usually costs more than old housing anyhow).