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Michael Lewyn's blog

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.
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More logical fallacies in planning policy

A couple of weeks ago, Todd Litman made a blog entry on logical fallacies in planning.*   After looking at the list of possible fallacies at the end of his post, I thought I would show some (hopefully not too common) examples of these fallacies:

Ad hominem (arguing against the person rather than the argument) – “Smart growth is in the U.N's Agenda 21 so we have to fight it to stop the U.N's plan to socialize the world.”  “Concern about urban containment is just another example of Tea Party extremism.”

Anageon (relying on inevitability)- “Sprawl is inevitable, so there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Does density raise prices?

In For A New Liberty, libertarian intellectual Murray Rothbard writes that leftist intellectuals had raised a variety of complaints against capitalism, and that "each of those complaints has been contradictory to one or more of their predecessors.”  In the 1930s, leftists argued that capitalism was prone to ‘eternal stagnation”, while in the 1960s, they argued that capitalist economies had “grown too much” causing “excessive affluence” and exhaustion of the world’s resources.  And so on.

Is Tel Aviv the future?

If you run a 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 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).