Michael Lewyn's blog

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.
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Is Tel Aviv the future?

If you run a google.com search for “The Death of Suburbia” you will find about 24,000 ‘hits.’   Some of the gloating over suburbia’s alleged demise is based on the facts that (some) suburbs have been hit hard by the current economic downturn, and that (some) city neighborhoods have become more expensive per square foot than than suburbs. (1)  But suburbia as a whole continues to gain population.

Density without walkability

I had heard of “dense sprawl” and “density without walkability” in the past, but before spending a week in Jerusalem last month, I had never really lived through these problems.

My parents (who I was staying with) rented a unit in a high-rise condo complex called Holyland Tower.  Although Holyland Tower was the tallest building in the area, there were numerous mid-rise buildings, and lots of two-and three-story apartment and condo buildings.  While walking through the idea, I saw nothing resembling a single-family home.  In sum, this area was a pretty dense neighborhood in a pretty dense city (Jerusalem’s overall density is roughly comparable to that of the city of San Francisco).

What Transit Agencies Should Ask Their Customers About

After reading this story about a transit agency surveying their customers, I thought to myself: do riders really want another survey asking whether they are satisfied or how clean the stations are?  Although clean stations are certainly better than unclean stations, I suspect that these are not transit riders' major priorities.  (And when I say "transit riders" I really of course mean "myself").

Should states have environmental review statutes for rezonings?

After reading an article on the misuse of CEQA in California,* I took a short look at New York law.  In New York, city planners must prepare an environmental assessment when property is rezoned, and must prepare a more detailed environmental impact statement (EIS) if property has a significant effect on the environment.  

Taming wide streets

Before moving to New York, I'd viewed street design through a fairly simple lens: narrow streets good, wide streets bad.  By and large, I still hold this view.  But after living here for a few months, I have learned that not all wide streets are equally bad.   The wide roads of the South are generally terrible, but New York has made some of its wide streets a bit more pedestrian-friendly.  To see why, go to Google Street View and examine three addresses: 5019 U.S. 23 in Chamblee, Georgia, 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood, and 107-43 Queens Boulevard in my current Queens neighborhood of Forest Hills.

Learning from TTI

In a recent post, Todd Litman criticized the Texas Transportation Institute's Urban Mobility Report.  In this post, I'd like to do something a little different: assume that TTI's congestion estimates are more or less reliable, and try to learn something from them.  So here are a few observations:

The false hope of comprehensive planning

 

It is conventional wisdom in some circles that “comprehensive planning” and sprawl are polar opposites- that planning is the enemy of sprawl.

But in fact, a comprehensive plan is almost as likely as a zoning code to be pro-sprawl.  Many of the land use policies that make suburbs automobile-dependent (such as wide roads, long blocks, low density, single-use zoning, etc.) can just as easily be found in a comprehensive plan. 

Cheap transport and cheap housing: is there a tradeoff?

A few months ago, I updated a city rating system (available at http://lewyn.tripod.com/livable09) that evaluated cities' "livability" by rating crime rates, transit-friendliness, and cost of housing.  

Plenty of cities did very well on the first two criteria.  For example, New York is now safer than most big cities, and of course is by far the best city in the U.S. for public transit.  But its housing costs are dreadfully high.  The same was true of Boston and San Francisco (which, if only crime and transit were considered, would rank second and third for livability).  

Cleanliness from a car

A few months ago, I was talking to a faculty colleague who lives in a part of Jacksonville even more sprawl-bound where I live, an area about a mile or so from the nearest bus stop and with a single-digit Walkscore.  He said Jacksonville was "safe and clean."  I was a little surprised: "clean" is one word I would never* use to describe Jacksonville.  When I walk down the sidewalks of San Jose Boulevard, I notice litter aplenty - and from what I know of Beach Boulevard (the grim commercial strip near my colleague's house) I doubt that it is much better.

On defining "Sprawl"

Last week, I was busy trying to turn my paper on sprawl in Canada (available at http://works.bepress.com/lewyn/65/) into a speech.   In my paper, I define sprawl in two ways: where we grow (measured by growth or decline of central cities, controlling for municipal annexations) and how we grow (measured by modal shares for cars and transit).  As I was proofing, I asked myself: why these particular measurements?  What presuppositions underlie defining sprawl based on, say, modal share as opposed to the growth of a urban area's land mass?

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