Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Thin Line Between Heaven and Here

A couple of interesting things have floated across the news wire:

The Economist is eager to point out that Wendell Cox is NOT credible, nor an economist, despite playing one on the internets or at a proposed transit public meeting near you.

Since 2000, he says, suburbs have generally grown faster, and this indicates that the "Back to the City" movement isn't real. Mr Green takes him at his word and writes:

I have long rooted for cities (although I confess that I myself live

in an "urban" suburb). But facts are facts, and the facts from the 2010 census at this point do not support the idea of a reversal from suburbanization to urbanization.

Well, ok, if someone was arguing that suburbs would empty out whil

e cities grew, then yes, they were mistaken. But I don't think that's the claim that urbanists are generally making. Rather, the suggestion is that demand for central city life has grown relative to demand for suburban life. And the data are consistent with this argument.

Have you flown into DFW lately? Or PHX? Or Las Vegas? Did you look out the window on the descent and notice all of the half-finished "planned communities" at the exurban edge with lonely houses sitting upon fully built out neighborhood street layouts? The 2000-2010 census means absolutely nothing. All of the data is skewed by the mania of the housing bubble and the jet-fueled illusion of free, cheap money. Ain't nothin' more expensive than cheap.

I'm far more interested in the 2010-2020 census data. I'm confident it will show a massive reclustering around centers of activity. These may not entirely be at the core, but in lesser cores within the overall socio-economic hierarchy of cores within metropolitan areas.

With that said, I think this graphic pointed to by commenter Alistair, who I will pretend is actually Alistair Crowley typing from beyond for my own amusement, shows the process has already begun:

Green areas show population growth. Red show losses. You'll notice that the red tracks like a swath between 635 and loop 12 in a semicircle around the city. The exurban areas are super dark green, but that is expected considering how many homes were built out there with the false promise that "value will go nowhere but UP!" Conveniently ignoring transportation costs from the equation.

Not coincidentally, gas is at 3.59 per gallon in Dallas for regular. News reports/prognosticators were predicting $4/gal. by mid-year. We're just about right on track. You know what a good idea is? More and bigger roads.

Unfortunately, and directly related to all of those roads, cars, and sprawl, we don't have the money to build Project Pegasus. The Observer wonders whether it is dead for good. And the DMN counters that it is no deader than anything else missing its necessary $2.5 billion.

Hmmm. Could Project Pegasus be the corpse of the 20th century mindlessness? What is the Return on Investment of that $2.5 billion. The certain answer would be "less traffic, more commerce, less waste, and RAINBOWS!"

Of course, we all know that the only real by-product will be the rainbows caused by all the more particulate matter in the air. Making driving "easy" only brings more traffic which will then clog the roads further.

And if this is to just appease the mess created by the current population and we like to tout that Dallas will double in population in 20-30 years, as if the "alivability" of highway culture won't act like a flatline to the desirability necessary for growth, what happens if/when we do double in size? Do we again double all of these roads to accommodate the new people? Will there even be a city left? Or how about one worth caring about?

Welcome to Dallas. You must now spend 40% of your income on transportation.

How about this instead:

We take 1/5 of the budget, tear out the mixmaster and sell off the reclaimed land for the needed $2.5 billion while repositioning all of the wasted land around the current mixmaster into increased tax base and greater supply of in-town urban housing meaning greater affordability.

We use the profits to build the walkable street grid system for the new neighborhoods that will stitch together the fragmented existing neighborhoods (or at least the empty husks of what once were neighborhoods). That creates MORE road capacity by 1) getting people out of cars, 2) slowing cars down so that there is less space between them and effectively increasing capacity, and 3) helping to fund new transit/streetcar lines linking the new neighborhoods together and with downtown.

The money can also be used to build an interconnected system of amenities/parks for the new developments including financing the Trinity River improvements. Maybe we can even use it to get some levees that allows for development to be built right up to the Great Trinity Divide's edge.

Or is all of this just too logical?