Michael Lewyn's blog

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.
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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?

The City/Suburb Income Gap- Bigger or Smaller?

The Brookings Institution's "State of Metropolitan America" database (at http://www.brookings.edu/metro/StateOfMetroAmerica/Map.aspx#/?subject=7&ind=70&dist=0&data=Number&year=2009&geo=metro&zoom=0&x=0&y=0 ) contains a wealth of information both on central cities and their metropolitan areas.  One issue I was curious about was the economic gap (or lack thereof) between cities and their suburbs.

What the foreclosure data teaches us

I recently finished reading Foreclosing the Dream, by William Lucy. The most interesting parts of this book are the first chapter and the last appendix, both of which tell us where foreclosures are (or at least were in 2008, before the foreclosure crisis morphed into an international economic downturn). These figures seem to me to debunk at least a couple of the more popular explanations of the foreclosure crisis, such as:

Myth 1: "Its all the fault of too much lending to the urban poor."

Census 2010: the early returns

Census data is already in for a couple of dozen states, and already blogs are starting to speculate about their lessons for American cities.  Some commentators look at the continued decline of Rust Belt cities like Chicago and St. Louis, and suggest that suburban sprawl continues (and will forever continue) unabated.  But reality is not quite so simple.

John McCain for President (?)

My sense is that most new urbanists and smart growth advocates were happy to see Barack Obama elected President two years ago.  While John McCain opposed Amtrak and had not been overly supportive of local public transit, Obama created an Administration full of advocates for transit and urbanism, and high-speed rail is one of his Administration's signature programs.  So the Obama Administration will slow sprawl, and will make our cities more transit-oriented, prosperous and walkable.   Right? 

Why Drivers Might Hate Bicyclists

I spent the last two weeks of December in Atlanta, living (mostly) with my parents.  My life in Atlanta is much more car-dependent than my life in Jacksonville; in the latter city, I live a block from a bus stop, while in Atlanta, I live at least a mile from the nearest bus stop (and more importantly, near no sidewalks to take me to said bus stop).  So naturally, I drove everywhere in Atlanta.

And while driving, I noticed a couple of unusual things.  First, I noticed that unlike in my Jacksonville neighborhood, bicyclists actually tried to ride on the street rather than on sidewalks.*  Second, I noticed that I was beginning to get annoyed with bicyclists- to a much greater extent than I have ever been annoyed with pedestrians while driving.

The Federal Interest in Non-Highway Transportation

As Congress begins to draft transportation legislation next year, fiscal scarcity may induce a fight between transit and highway advocates over federal funding, rather than the cooperation of the last few years.  And if highway advocates seek to tear down federal support for other forms of transportation, they will probably rely heavily on federalism considerations, arguing that highways are inherently an interstate concern while transit and non-motorized forms of transportation are a nonfederal concern.  For example, Alan Pisarski writes: “If sidewalks and bike paths are federal then everything is federal.”

There are two flaws in this argument.  First of all, highways are not always primarily an interstate concern

Highways and Labor Markets

In a recent blog post,(1) highway expert Alan Pisarski suggests that highway-oriented sprawl development is somehow necessary for the development of modern labor markets.(2) Pisarski writes that regional job markets are jobs are more specialized today than they were in his youth, and labor markets are thus "of immense size because many [highly specialized] employers need a market of hundreds of thousands of potential workers to reach the ones they need. The Atlanta region of 26 counties is not a great economic engine because it is 26 charming adjacent hamlets, but rather because the market reach of employers, suppliers, customers and job seekers spreads over several million residents."

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