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Should California Get Rid of Single-Family Zoning? - The New York Times
“When I recently asked Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles about his stance on S.B. 50, the legislation that would have allowed more apartment construction near transit, he said it wouldn’t be a good fit for the city.

S.B. 50, he told me, would threaten the character of existing neighborhoods. And L.A., the state’s largest city, already builds more than its fair share of new housing compared with other cities in the county, he said.

This week, though, Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui, my colleagues at The Upshot, reported that apartments and townhomes — anything other than detached, single-family houses — are banned from 75 percent of L.A.’s residential land.

All of which raises the question: When you’re dealing with a housing crisis, should a city even have single-family zoning? As Emily and Quoctrung reported, that’s a question cities across the nation are grappling with.

I asked Emily to dive a little deeper into what they learned about California. In L.A., at least, things weren’t always this way, she wrote:

In 1960, about 2.5 million people lived in the city of Los Angeles, but 10 million theoretically could. The city had the zoning capacity for that many residents — developers could legally build enough apartments to house them, neighborhoods were planned to accommodate that much growth.

Then L.A. began to reimagine itself in ways that constrain the city today.

L.A. and many California communities began the steady process of “downzoning”: converting land that allowed courtyard apartments to just fourplexes, fourplexes to duplexes, large-lot single-family homes to even-larger-lot single-family homes.

“It was death by a thousand cuts,” said Greg Morrow, executive director of the Real Estate Development and Design program at Berkeley, who has studied the development history of Los Angeles. “You’re just taking a little bit out each time.”

Within 20 years, according to Mr. Morrow’s research, the city’s zoning capacity had been cut to just under 4 million people. And that number has barely kept pace since with actual population growth.

Today, many families are doubling up or paying far more than they can afford for a place to live.

This history — and the current zoning map that The Times has reproduced — portrays a clearer picture of the housing shortage in California. It’s not just that the state hasn’t built enough housing over the years; California communities have made it illegal to build much of the housing that was once possible.

S.B. 50 would have significantly changed that. But the proposal, from State Senator Scott Wiener, is just one of several from officials across the country who are starting to rethink single-family zoning entirely.

“If you look back at early attempts to downzone,” Mr. Morrow said, “they really were almost driven by this naïve belief that if you just downzoned, you could stop population growth.”

In L.A., that clearly did not happen.”
california  zoning  losangeles  housing  2019  cities  urban  urbanism  policy  sb50  scottwiener  ericgarcetti  emilybadger  quoctrungbui  jillcowan  downzoning 
june 2019 by robertogreco
How our cars, our neighborhoods, and our schools are pulling us apart - The Washington Post
"Americans are pulling apart. We're pulling apart from each other in general. And, in particular, we're pulling apart from people who differ from us.

The evidence on this idea is varied, broad and often weird.

We are, as Robert Putnam famously put it, less likely to join community bowling leagues.

We're more likely, as I mentioned yesterday after a police confrontation with a group of black teens at a private swimming pool, to swim in seclusion, in gated community clubs and back-yard pools that have taken the place of public pools.

We're more likely to spend time isolated in our cars, making what was historically a communal experience — the commute to work — a private one. In 1960, 63 percent of American commuters got to work in a private car.

Now, 85 percent of us do. And three-quarters of us are riding in that car alone.

Within large metropolitan areas, we live more spread out, more distant, from each other than we once did. The population density in central cities plummeted by half after the 1950s, as many residents left for the suburbs.

As a result, writes economist Joseph Cortright in a new City Observatory report, in metropolitan America we now have fewer neighbors, on average, and we live farther from them than we did five decades ago.

It's little wonder, then, that we now socialize with them less often, too.

Add up all of these seemingly disconnected facts, and here you are: "There is compelling evidence," Cortright writes in the new report, "that the connective tissue that binds us together is coming apart."

The shared experiences and communal spaces where our lives intersect — even if just for a ride to a work, or a monthly PTA meeting — have grown seemingly more sparse. And all of this isolation means that the wealthy have little idea what the lives of the poor look like, that people who count on private resources shy away from spending on public ones, that misconceptions about groups unlike ourselves are broadly held.

Cortright's underlying point is the same as Putnam's 20 years ago. We're receding from the public realm in ways that could undermine communities and the will that arises when people within them know and trust each other.

We're even living further apart from each other within our own homes. As our houses have gotten bigger — and the size of the average household has declined — we're a lot less likely today in America to share bedrooms.A particularly curious data point Cortright unearths: In 1960, 3.5 percent of U.S. households lived in a home where bedrooms outnumbered occupants. Today, 44 percent of households do.

Here's another: We no longer even share the same experience of public safety. In the 1970s, Cortright points out that there were about 40 percent more private security officers in this country than public law enforcement officers. By the 1990s, there were twice as many. And their presence — monitoring gated communities, private clubs, quasi-public spaces like shopping malls — marks a kind of "anti-social capital." It implies that private guards must manage communities where that missing "connective tissue" can't.

When we retreat into these private spaces and separate enclaves, now increasingly sorted by income, too, we have less and less in common. And when we have little left in common, it's hard to imagine how we'll agree on fixes to big problems, or how we'll empathize with the people touched by them.

This familiar argument is particularly relevant now to many of the bitter debates we're having around racial unrest and even poverty. If rich and poor, black and white, don't share the same commons — if they attend separate schools, live in separate neighborhoods, swim in separate pools, rely on separate transportation — then there's little reason for them to mutually invest in any of these resources.

Historically in American cities, the ghetto didn't just separate black homes from white ones. It ensured that the rest of the city would never share in the concerns — shoddy trash pickup, weak policing, meager public investments — of the people who lived there.

The relationships that run between social capital, trust and the public realm, as Cortright writes, are complicated (likely even more so by modern technology). But they feel tremendously relevant today.

"Arguably," he writes, "the decline in social capital is both a cause and an effect of the decline of the public realm: people exhibit less trust because they have fewer interactions; we have fewer interactions, so we have lower levels of trust and less willingness to invest in the public realm that supports it.""
segregation  us  cities  urbanism  urban  cars  transportation  schools  education  2015  emilybadger  robertputnam  race  class  commuting  josephcortright  neighborhoods  community  communitities  isolation  trust  publiccommons  gatedcommunities  social  capitalism  security  lawenforcement  income 
june 2015 by robertogreco
The double-standard of making the poor prove they’re worthy of government benefits - The Washington Post
"Sometimes these laws are cast as protection for the poor, ensuring that aid is steered in ways that will help them the most. Other times they're framed as protection for the taxpayer, who shouldn't be asked to help people who will squander the money on vices anyway.

But the logic behind the proposals is problematic in at least three, really big ways.

The first is economic: There's virtually no evidence that the poor actually spend their money this way. The idea that they do defies Maslow's hierarchy — the notion that we all need shelter and food before we go in search of foot massages. In fact, the poor are much more savvy about how they spend their money because they have less of it (quick quiz: do you know exactly how much you last spent on a gallon of milk? or a bag of diapers?). By definition, a much higher share of their income — often more than half of it — is eaten up by basic housing costs than is true for the better-off, leaving them less money for luxuries anyway. And contrary to the logic of drug-testing laws, the poor are no more likely to use drugs than the population at large.

The second issue with these laws is a moral one: We rarely make similar demands of other recipients of government aid. We don't drug-test farmers who receive agriculture subsidies (lest they think about plowing while high!). We don't require Pell Grant recipients to prove that they're pursuing a degree that will get them a real job one day (sorry, no poetry!). We don't require wealthy families who cash in on the home mortgage interest deduction to prove that they don't use their homes as brothels (because surely someone out there does this). The strings that we attach to government aid are attached uniquely for the poor.

That leads us to the third problem, which is a political one. Many, many Americans who do receive these other kinds of government benefits — farm subsidies, student loans, mortgage tax breaks — don't recognize that, like the poor, they get something from government, too. That's because government gives money directly to poor people, but it gives benefits to the rest of us in ways that allow us to tell ourselves that we get nothing from government at all.

Political scientist Suzanne Mettler has called this effect the "submerged state." Food stamps and welfare checks are incredibly visible government benefits. The mortgage interest deduction, Medicare benefits and tuition tax breaks are not — they're submerged. They come to us in round-about ways, through smaller tax bills (or larger refunds), through payments we don't have to make to doctors (thanks to Medicare), or in tuition we don't have to pay to universities (because the G.I. Bill does that for us).

Mettler's research has shown that a remarkable number of people who don't think they get anything from government in fact benefit from one of these programs. This explains why we get election-season soundbites from confused voters who want policymakers to "keep your government hands off my Medicare!" This is also what enables politicians to gin up indignation among small-government supporters who don't realize they rely on government themselves.

Mettler raises a lot of concerns about what the submerged state means for how we understand the role of government. But one result of this reality is that we have even less tolerance for programs that help the poor: We begrudge them their housing vouchers, for instance, even though government spends about four times as much subsidizing housing for upper-income homeowners.

That's a long-winded way of saying that these proposed laws — which insist that government beneficiaries prove themselves worthy, that they spend government money how the government wants them to, that they waive their privacy and personal freedom to get it — are also simply a reflection of a basic double-standard."
us  poverty  government  benefits  2015  politics  discrimination  patronization  legibility  illegibility  indignity  emilybadger  privacy  freedom  control  suzannemettler  law  legal  morality  inequality 
april 2015 by robertogreco
We're Only Beginning to Understand How Our Brains Make Maps - Emily Badger - The Atlantic Cities
"Every time you walk out your front door and past the mailbox, for instance, a neuron in your hippocampus fires as you move through that exact location – next to the mailbox – with a real-world precision down to as little as 30 centimeters. When you come home from work and pass the same spot at night, the neuron fires again, just as it will the next morning. "Each neuron cares for one place," says Mayank Mehta, a neurophysicist at UCLA. "And it doesn't care for any other place in the world.""

[via: http://ucresearch.tumblr.com/post/53534971187/every-time-you-walk-out-your-front-door-and-past ]
mapping  maps  memory  mayankmehra  neuroscience  2013  emilybadger  placecells  brain  place  location 
june 2013 by robertogreco
Scientific Proof That Cities Are Like Nothing Else in Nature - Emily Badger - The Atlantic Cities
"The idea that cities are governed by some universal rules of math may make it sound like the urban planner has little control. But, in fact, Bettencourt sees the planner’s job to try to steer cities toward that optimal point (G*) on the above graph. Beyond that point, the number of social interactions in a city can still grow, but the cost of them rises faster than the benefit.

Ideally, as cities grow, all of this means that they should become even more productive, even more powerful. And in this way, at least, they are like one thing in nature. As stars compress matter, they burn brighter and faster the bigger they are. But stars can eventually run out of energy. They’re not open-ended. And they’re isolated systems, where cities rely on food and other resources from beyond their borders.

If the idea of a city as “social reactor” is still a bit too abstract for you, perhaps try this hybrid: “It’s part star, part network,” Bettencourt says. “But it’s really it’s own new thing, for which we don’t have a strict analogy anywhere else in nature.”"

[See also: http://esciencenews.com/articles/2013/06/20/cities.are.a.new.kind.complex.system.part.social.reactor.part.network ]
cities  rules  growth  metaphors  luisbettencourt  2013  urban  urbanplanning  urbanism  networks  stars  analogies  nature  emilybadger 
june 2013 by robertogreco

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