Friday, January 11, 2019

The right kind of urbanisation

Edward Glaeser has declared cities as humankind's greatest invention. Cities are indeed the engines of economic growth. 

But these engines are stuttering on both sides of the divide, developing and developed countries for contrasting reasons. In developing countries rapid urban expansion has been associated with sprawls, deficient infrastructure, traffic congestion, unaffordable housing, and slums and squatter settlements, all of which threaten to choke urban growth. In developed countries, urban growth has been associated with gentrification and sky-rocketing housing prices which have priced out all but the richer sections of the population from cities. 

Emily Badger captures the challenge facing American cities,
You don’t want to become Manhattan (too dense), Portland (too twee), Boston (too expensive), Seattle (too tech-y), Houston (too sprawling), Los Angeles (too congested), Las Vegas (too speculative), Chicago (too indebted). San Francisco has come to stand for the most specific set of horrors. It is the place where extreme poverty and tech wealth occupy the same block, while the schoolteachers and firefighters all live two hours away... In truth, most of these cities have qualities other cities would reasonably desire. Denver has one of the country’s fastest-growing tech labor forces, with minorities and women relatively well represented in those jobs. Seattle and Portland have among the fastest all-around job growth. New York has some of the fastest-growing wages. San Francisco has unemployment well below the national average and household incomes among the highest in the country.
But San Francisco-ization and the other -izations don’t refer to the process of acquiring any of these good things. Rather, those terms capture the deepening suspicion of many communities that the costs of urban prosperity outweigh the benefits. The tech jobs and the high wages aren’t worth having if they come with worsening congestion, more crowded development or soaring housing costs... Once you let tech giants in the door, you have a homeless crisis. Once you allow more density, you’re surrounded by skyscrapers. Once housing costs begin to rise, the logical conclusion is San Francisco... It’s much harder to point to cities that have gotten all of this right — the growth without the congestion, the tech jobs without the homeless crisis, the affordable housing without the sprawl.
The challenge for cities everywhere is to become engines of inclusive economic growth. This would reconcile economic growth with exclusionist trends like gentrification, unaffordable housing, suburban sprawls et al. In fact, given the importance of urbanisation, this should become one of the defining challenges of our generation.

And in this direction, Citylab points to the new Minneapolis's comprehensive plan to promote denser affordable housing. The Minneapolis 2040 has been described as the most radical up zoning plan in in any US city. It upzones almost the entire city, 75% of which is currently zoned for single-family units, and allows for building four-floor triplexes in most of the city and higher density in transit zones. It also eliminates off-street minimum parking requirement, the fourth US city after Buffalo, Hartford, and San Francisco. The Minneapolis plan assumes significance since upzoning rows of single-family homes set behind landscaped front yards have hitherto been off-table in zoning debates across US cities. 

No comments: